The Vincent Library’s four generations of the Summa Theologica
I hold in my hand a book, a book with a glossy white cover and forest green lettering. Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologica—the 1989 edition—has returned to The Vincent Library, its contents read by a Saint Thomas More community member.
Its 651 pages feel pleasantly weighty in my left hand as my right hand weightlessly glides over book spines, looking for its old place on the library shelf: BX1749 .T5…BX1749 .T5 1969…BX1750…Its Library of Congress call number is BX1749 .T5 1989. That means it goes right after BX1749 .T5 1969 and before BX1750.
I slid the book onto the shelf, after editions of the Summa Theologica printed in 1947 and 1969. Back in my office, which is also our archives, is another copy from 1887, once owned by T. Lawrason Riggs, the founding chaplain of Saint Thomas More.
Aquinas’s Summa Theologica is not the only one of our library books that keeps company with a much older version of itself. A 1987 volume of Julian of Norwich’s Revelations of Divine Love stands in our main library. Another copy, published in 1920, remains in our archives. St. Thomas More, whose name our chapel bears, has many books in our collection, their publication dates ranging from the late 1890s to the late 1990s. All of these books were printed at different points in history, but all are linked to each other by general content and title. Whenever I reshelf a book like the Summa Theologica, I am touching a strand of Catholic thought. Perhaps the weight in my hand is not only the sum of book cover and paper, but also the sum of a faith tradition’s hopes, fears, and desires.
The writers of these books may no longer live, but, their texts remain—each one a silent presence that waits for us to hold them, to read them, and to weave their ideas into our present journeys of faith.